Back in 2009, when I made my living photographing stock imagery, the size of the images we could license made a difference in our potential for sales. Photos were sold based on how big the file was (in megapixels), so photographers with large-megapixel cameras had a more competitive edge over those of us who did not. At the time, I was using a Nikon D200, a 12-megapixel camera, and felt pressured to upgrade. When it was obvious that Nikon (at the time) was not going to come out with anything with more than 12-megapixels, I decided to make the move to Canon, which already had a hefty 21-megapixel 5DMarkII in their inventory.

Now, my career has slightly shifted. I still shoot stock (you can see my growing portfolio on Stocksy), but it is not my main focus. In fact, over 90% of my income is derived from sales through products I create for my online shop, the Nicolesy Store, and I also write articles and share photos through social media. The photos I use are typically consumed by other people on a screen (phone, laptop, tablet), so technically I don’t really need a camera that creates 20+ megapixels. I just need something that makes images that are large enough for the content I create.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the mirrorless cameras out there right now, especially the Fuji and Sony systems. I own a 16-megapixel Fuji X-T1, but I have also had the chance to play around with the Sony a7 series cameras and lenses, too. While there is no denying that the quality of the Sony full-frame sensors is amazing (especially the brand-new 42.4-megapixel Sony a7RII), is that more than we need? Sure, everyone has their own uses and preferences, but when does the amount of megapixels start to become overkill … or does it?

Here are some points to ponder, both “for” and “against” the need for a large megapixel camera:

  • For: Printing is probably one of the biggest reason to have a huge sensor. As the print sizes get larger and larger, a higher-megapixel camera is more desirable.
  • Against: Most of what we share is online, and people rarely share full resolution images online (and if they do, a user would need to zoom in to see it up-close). When I share to Instagram from my Fuji X-T1 or Canon 6D, they are resized down to 1024×1024 pixels. That’s tiny compared to the size the image started with! And most other images, whether they are on Facebook or a blog, can only be viewed as large as the screen they are on (which is definitely not over 20 megapixels).
  • For: A higher-megapixel image allows you to get more aggressive with your cropping and still have a decent-sized image.
  • Against: The more megapixels, the greater the need for memory card and hard-drive storage. In fact, my husband just gave me two 32GB SD cards that he was planning on getting rid of because they were too small for his 42-megapixel Sony a7RII! (Score!)
  • Against: Large RAW files require very fast and updated computer processors to make edits. Older computers or antiquated versions of software may have a difficult time working with extremely large files.

I’m not saying that high-megapixel cameras don’t have their place, in fact, if Fuji came out with a 30-megapixel X-series camera, I would probably be adding it to my camera collection as soon as it came out. :) There is no denying that having extra wiggle-room for editing, cropping, or just to create more detail is ideal. I just don’t see the need to base an entire purchasing decision around the number of megapixels a camera has. It’s one feature out of many. In the coming months I’m going to take a crack at printing my own photographs at home, and I’m curious to see if that will alter my opinion on megapixels and how many I actually require for my photography.